The Romance of the Western

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This week I have been watching a lot of Westerns.  I want to get a feel for the landscape of Arizona and for films about the land.  In a Western the land is the main character, the real star.  Everything is set outdoors where life is lived. The landscape shots in All the Pretty Horses are breathtaking.  The wide screen was made for vistas like this.

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I used to think Westerns were just shoot ’em ups, all guns and horses and men insulting each other before riding away.

But the modern Western and, I realise now, many of its predecessors are full of emotion.  People’s lives and the decisions they have to face.  Love and death and the whole damn thing played out across real time.  Years pass, generations come and go, these films are about families, their ties and their betrayals.  I don’t know if it’s a pure Western but Giant seems like that to me – an epic portrait of family life in America.

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I just saw The Hi-Lo Country again and found it close to the idea of a traditional ‘Woman’s Picture’, the central love triangle between two men (Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup) and a woman (Patricia Arquette) delivering as much emotional punch as any romance novel, only the unspoken love was between the two guys, becoming an elegy for the last of the cowboys.

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I love American films for their mythic element and the Western is the original myth about what it means to be an American. Which is oddly enough one of the themes in my own film. The desire to belong to someone, something bigger than yourself, to be a citizen, versus the right to self determination begs the wider question, ‘Who am I?’

And then there’s the loners.  I always liked The Misfits. A group of drifters who don’t belong, a melancholy in the way they kill time together.

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And the lonely cowboy in The Searchers, walking away at the end.

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A conversation with a movie you love – or which touches on the themes you want to write about can influence you in ways that conscious analysis never can.

So within one film we see another, and another and so on…until we find our own.

What film have you had a conversation with recently? And how does it echo the story in your head? Leave a comment here or find me @emlin32 on Twitter.

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